Dot, Star, Key, Rainbow . . .
By Jheri St. James
Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the southwest
Indian Ocean, about 900 km east of Madagascar. In addition
to the island of Mauritius, the republic includes the islands
of St. Brandon and Rodrigues and the Agalega Islands. Mauritius
is part of the Mascarene Islands, with the French island of
Réunion 200 km to the southwest.
Star and Key of the Indian Ocean” is the translation
of Mauritius’ national motto (Stella Clavisque Maris
Indici). Mauritius on the globe is a tiny dot in the vast blue
ocean, reminiscent of a star in the infinitely blue sky. Mark
Twain wrote in Following the Equator: “You gather the
idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that
heaven was copied after Mauritius.”
Heaven is multicultural and so is Mauritius. People
from India, Africa Madagascar, France, China, Japan, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Thailand, Arabia and a few other places thrive
there. Communication behind the pearly gates might be telepathic,
but in Mauritius the official language is English, with French
following, and the national lingua franca a French/English
Creole dialect. One also hears Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu,
Marathi, Bhojpuri and Gujarati During British rule, laborers
were brought from India and this race today constitutes 70
percent of the population, while the rest are of either African,
French, Chinese or mixed descent. Hindus constitute 52% of
the religious faiths, while the remainder is composed mostly
of Christians (28%) and Muslims (17%), Buddhists, Sikhs and
other religions. Mauritius is a rainbow!
* * *
a volunteer in this project I was thinking about ‘earth and soil’ and what it symbolises
and here are my thoughts: Significant soil doesn’t
have to be wrought in political drama, bloodshed, war; it
can just be about beauty. The Earth here for me at Chamarel
symbolizes a journey of upheaval to foreign soil, it’s
a yin and yang of faith leading a rocky road to happiness.
If you find yourself in a country or place with different
people, religions, skin colours, languages, where you feel
lost and unbalanced, when you can’t feel a connection
to the people . . . I say take a good look at the unfamiliar
scenery around you, get down on your hands and knees and
feel not just the earth but 'The Earth,' 'The Mother' who
is always there wherever you go. Close your eyes to the sights
you can’t connect with and open your heart so you can
truly see the love and the world in those around you.
Geologists are intrigued by the
rolling dunes of the multi-colored, lunar-like landscape at
Chamarel. The colors—red,
brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow—never erode
in spite of torrential downpours and adverse climatic conditions.
The phenomenon has never been explained but it is believed the
soil is composed of mineral rich volcanic ash. The colored earth
of Chamarel was promoted as Mauritius’ first tourist attraction
back in the 1960’s. Even today souvenir test tubes containing
the multi-colored earth can be bought from beach vendors and
tourist boutiques. Also stunning in the region are the 272 ft.
high Cascade Chamarel waterfalls from the River St. Denis in
the Black River Mountains, which plunge seaward to form the River
The rainbow of diversity it not limited to people,
languages, religions, and soil colors in Mauritius. Marine life
is enormously diverse in this star-dot island nation, which boasts
a huge range of sea treasures and infinite wealth. The Mauritian
coastline never fails to surprise: multi-colored fish, moray
eels, magnificent coral beds. Here is a small sampling of pictures.
* * *
How did such a colorful polyglot
of life forms ever come together? While Arab and Malay sailors
knew of Mauritius
as early as the 10th century and Portuguese sailors first visited
it in 1505, the island remained uninhabited until 1638, when
it was colonized by the Dutch. They named the island in honor
of Prince Maurice of Nassau. Due to climate changes, cyclones
and the deterioration of the settlement, the Dutch abandoned
the island some decades later. The French controlled the island
during the 18th century and named it Ile de France (French Island).
Despite winning the famous battle of Grand-Port, the French were
defeated by the British in the north of the island a month later,
and thus lost possession to the British in 1810 and the latter
reverted the island to its former name. Independence was attained
in 1968, with the country becoming a republic within the Commonwealth
in 1992. Mauritius has been a stable democracy with regular free
elections and a positive human rights record, and has attracted
considerable foreign investment, earning one of Africa’s
highest per capital incomes.
* * *
Dear Gary, Happy New Year; I
do hope you received the soil okay. Here are the photos of
the area the soil was taken
from. . . AMAZING isn’t it!! Chamarel 7 Coloured Earth
to me looks like a huge sleeping dragon; it doesn’t look
like soil. As you can see it looks like something else. The earth
is coloured due to the minerals in the earth separating when
it settled here all those years ago when Mauritius was made from
a volcano and before the Dodo even existed here!!
Do.do (do’do) n. -does or -dos. 1. A large
clumsy flightless bird Raphus cucullatus) formerly of the island
of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and extinct since the late 17th
century. 2. Informal. One who is hopelessly passé. 3.
Informal. A stupid person; an idiot.
The Dodo bird was turkey sized with
strong legs and a big bill. The last Dodo died around 1681,
but a few stuffed
birds and skeletons can be seen in museums. The Dodo may be more
renowned now than ever. Mauritius’ coat of arms features
a rendition of the Dodo and, “On December 23, 2005, a Dutch-Mauritian
research team announced the discovery of Dodo remains dating
back at least 2,000 years. The fossil material was excavated
in Mare aux Songes, a low-lying swamp area in the dry southeastern
part of the island, on land owned by MTMD sugar cane plantation.
Portuguese sailors in the 16th century first brought attention
to this famous bird, its lack of fear of humans, its plump size
and its inability to fly, which seems to have brought about its
quick demise once Western man landed on the island.
“Approximately 80 sq. ft. have been excavated
so far and more than 700 bones have been recovered in which several
Dodo bones, including remains of Dodo chicks and a very rare
part of the bird’s beak, of which only a few are known
to exist in the entire world. The rare find will enable researchers
to discover more about what happened to the bird. An international
team is being assembled in order that an accurate, systematic
study of the site can be performed and a study to reconstruct
the world in which the Dodo lived before it was wiped out by
sailors and settlers from the West. The last time Dodo remains
were found was in 1920. The word ‘dodo’ is similar
to the Portuguese word for fool. Labeled with this unsuitable
tag, it seems the Dodo just won’t lie down until it has
taught us all a thing or two and re-educated us that the real
fools are the ones who have deprived the world of its unique
presence.” (taken from Mauritius News, January 2006).
never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the
sole purpose of becoming extinct and that was
all he was good for. Will Cuppy (1884-1949).
Is the loss of the Dodo bird the
price Mauritius paid for its success in peaceful living today?
With a life expectancy
of 72 years, a very low AIDS rate, and steady development from
a low-income, agriculturally based economy to a middle-income
diversified economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist
sectors, Mauritius can be proud of its achievements, even as
it grieves the loss of the Dodo bird. Annual growth has been
in the order of 5% to 6%. This remarkable rise has been reflected
in more equitable income distribution, increased life expectancy,
lowered infant morality, and a much-improved infrastructure.
Sugar cane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area
and accounts for 25% of export earnings. The government’s
development strategy centers on expanding local financial institutions
and building a domestic information telecommunications industry.
Mauritius has attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, many
aimed at commerce in India and South Africa, and investment in
the banking sector alone has reached over $1 billion. Mauritius,
with its strong textile sector, has been well poised to take
advantage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). “Corruption
levels are relatively low and the government appears generally
to be committed to regulating its banking industry,” says
the CIA World Fact Book. Not many countries can make that statement.
Mauritius really does seem to have the key to successful life
on earth; no dodos here.
* * *
There is much to celebrate in music and dance at
the rainbow of festivals in Mauritius. As with every other facet
of this tiny land, diversity is the key. Being a blend of diverse
cultures and religions, which the immigrant population brought
from their ancestral countries, their festivities are celebrated
in a spirit of peace and harmony throughout the year.
The sega, a dance invented by Mauritians
of African origin, has become synonymous with joie de vivre.
on African music originating with slaves, it is nowadays played
with modern instruments and features contemporary musical influences.
Sega is an evolved form of polka and quadrilles from Europe fused
with local rhythms and instruments. The slaves obviously began
dancing the sega to forget their miserable existence. There are
now several types of sega in Mauritius. Standard sega (where
the instruments are the ravanne, the maravanne and the triangle)
has its own disciples and devotees. Modern sega frequently includes
influences from zouk, reggae, soukous and other Latin American
music styles. Seggae, a blend of reggae and sega was born in
Port Louis, the capitol of Mauritius, among the Rastafarians
in the 1980’s. Indian and Chinese immigrants have brought
many of their own styles of music and dance, and instruments
like the sitar (strings) and tabla (drum). The rubbing of feet,
the swaying of hips and Creole lyrics are part and parcel of
A short list and photos of some of the festivals
of Mauritius follows:
Cavadi - This festival is celebrated
in January/February. Bodies are pierced with needles, tongues
and cheeks with pins,
devotees in a trance carry the ‘Cavadi’ on their
shoulders as a penitence. The ‘Cavadi’ is a wooden
arch, covered with flowers and with a pot of milk at each end.
Divali - The Festival of Lights is celebrated in
a spirit of pure joy, in the month of October or November. Small
clay lamps line the walls, balconies and yards. They are lit
at sunset. Their golden flickering starlight, which is believed
to guide the Goddess of wealth and good fortune, can be seen
everywhere. Divali represents the victory of truth (light) over
ignorance (darkness). The Festival of Lights, Divali, is a celebration
of joy, happiness and for many Mauritians, a time for sharing.
Laval - Every September 9, Mauritians of all faiths walk or
drive towards the tomb of the Blessed Jacques
Désiré Laval, the “Apostle of the Black People” at
Ste-Croix, Port- Louis. The belief in Père Laval, to whom
powers of healing are attributed, reminds us of the Lourdes Pilgrimage
||Ganesh Chaturthi - Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated
on the 4th day of the lunar month of August/September by
Hindus in honour of the birth of Ganesha, God of wisdom.
Holi - This Hindu festival is as colourful as the many legends
from which it originates. It is above all a festival of joy
during which men and women throw coloured water and powder
on each other and wish one another good luck.
Id-El-Fitr - The Id-El-Fitr festival signals the end of the
Ramadan - the fasting
period for Muslim people. Prayers are said in mosques all day
Ougadi - Ougadi is the Telugu New Year and is usually celebrated
Spring Festival - The Chinese New
Year is celebrated each year on a different date, owing to
the differences between
the lunar and the solar calendars. Houses are thoroughly cleaned
before the festival. No knife or scissors are used on the actual
day of the festival. Red, a symbol of happiness is the main colour
of the day. Food offerings are made to ensure that the following
year will be plentiful and traditional ‘Wax’ cakes
are distributed to parents and friends. Firecrackers are set
off in the heavens to drive away the evil spirits.
* * *
to Elizabeth McDonough, the soil collector in Mauritius whose
motto is” “Not today, nor tomorrow, or the next,
that we believe about today, that we lived yesterday…”
www.artliz.net ). Your celebration of
our project enhances its spirit. Common Ground 191 is proud
and happy to have Mauritius’ beautiful rainbow soil
for our project. Rainbows are the artwork of heaven after
all and now, we discover, exist even in dirt. But it figures;
even Mauritius’ flag is a rainbow. Is it possible that
the constitution of the underlying soil determines the nature
of life on the surface? Perhaps this multicolored soil created
the beautiful rainbow worlds on the surface and in the sea
surrounding Mauritius—this tiny dot, the star and key
of the Indian Ocean. Make no mistake: these small bits contain
great potential—a dot can be a decimal point, a star
guide the traveler, and a key can unlock a door into a new
rainbow reality—perhaps all over the globe. The word
for peace in Mauritius’ Creole is Lape.
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